Terry Eagan Fulfills Wife’s Dying Wish With Healing Gardens

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It isn't often that a husband gets to fulfill a wife's dying wish as passionately and successfully as Terry Eagan has over the past decade with the introduction of Mary Eagan Healing Gardens to hospitals in cities in Massachusetts and Ontario.

Mary Eagan succumbed to leukemia in 1992 but, before she passed away, she told her loving husband Terry that she'd like to see a garden built for the use and comfort of future cancer patients who were stuck inside in sterile environments and yearned for a taste of nature.

"She wanted to see trees, flowers and birds," Eagan told Samaritanmag over coffee at a Toronto restaurant during a recent visit from his hometown of Waltham, Mass. "While science was working towards curing her, it would have been very invigorating for her to get outside and get some nature. That was her wish, which gave me the original motivation that this all stemmed from."

Eagan shares his wife's passion for the outdoors and often came north to Canada to camp, and he set out to make his wife's vision a reality by trying to help cancer patients and their families better cope with their stressful situations. "Trees and nature are very soothing and refreshing and invigorating and offset the clinical," he says.

The Mary Eagan Garden 2

 

"While science is working on providing a cure, it's a spirit, mind and body thing. The soul and the spirit may not affect the outcome as far as getting better or how long it takes to get better, but it sure adds to the quality of life."

Eagan has worked in the computer software industry for more than 25 years and says he's made a good living from it. After his basic living expenses were covered and he made sure that his children were well taken care of physically and financially, most of his money was (and continues to be) funneled into his dream projects. 

He is also a huge folk music fan and used to play bass and do some live sound work. It was after a 1996 trip to the Ottawa Folk Festival that his kids suggested that he try to raise more money for "mom's patio" through music.

Eagan staged his first benefit concert in 1997 and he's been organizing them regularly ever since. His efforts finally paid off in 2001 when the first Mary Eagan Healing Garden was opened at the Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Care Center at Deaconess Waltham Hospital in Waltham. 

The Mary Eagan Garden

The friends Eagan has made in the Canadian folk music community and other serendipitous connections led to the second and third gardens being established in Ottawa, Ont. at the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park and the Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital. Healing Gardens are now in various stages of planning and development in Renfrew and Kitchener, Ont. and Cambridge, Mass.

Each garden includes trees for the sound of rustling leaves, evergreen shrubs since green is the "colour of growth and living," and flowers to provide a welcoming setting for birds. His team of designers and landscape architects also try to incorporate water features, since "hearing water move is like life flowing, and that's a good thing."

Eagan raised $75,000 of the total cost of $150,000 for the first garden, but he aims to build most for $60,000. He believes they work best with new projects under construction since it's easier to incorporate the garden into both the design and the budget. Eagan starts raising money before approaching hospital foundations, and says that $15,000 is the magic number to get administrators interested in making a garden part of their budget.

He estimates that he's raised $150,000 out of his own pocket, as well as from individual and corporate contributors and money from the concerts and albums he's released through his Patio Records boutique label since 2002 from the likes of J.P. Cormier, The North Atlantic Strings, The Country Masters, Missy Burgess and Doug McArthur. He's recorded most of the benefit concerts and selling them online is on his agenda for the future.

Eagan says he doesn't receive any of the money raised through these ventures since he's not a registered charity.

"I could either have the time to pursue getting the gardens built or do the paperwork to be a registered charity. I actually don't get money. The money goes directly to the local cancer foundations."

Terry Eagan The medical community has come around to embrace the concept of total health care that goes beyond medication and traditional treatments and includes some of the holistic elements emphasized in the Healing Gardens. Eagan would like to one day see them being built around the world.

"I want it to be a concept where it's part of the overall treatment plan for patients everywhere," he says. "It's well beyond me. I just want to be a catalyst. The need is everywhere."

Musicians have also adopted the Healing Gardens concerts as events they want to be involved with, and Eagan said the word about them is spreading. "There's a community of performers who enjoy being part of it and request more people to get involved. The problem I have now is there are more people that I would love to present than I have events to present them in."

This year's multi-artist concerts will take place in the Greater Toronto Area on April 16; Lexington, Mass. on April 30; Kitchener, Ont. on Sept. 25; Ottawa, Ont. on Nov. 27 and, tentatively, in Renfrew, Ont. on Oct. 29. Among those confirmed to take part are Jory Nash, Laura Bird, The Laws, Katherine Wheatley, Rick Fines, Suzie Vinnick, Tannis Slimmons, Lewis Melville, Missy Burgess, Michael Burgess, Lynn Miles and Amanda Rheaume. Updated individual concert lineups and ticket information can be found at www.patiorecords.com.

When asked what he thought his late wife would think of everything he's done in her name, Eagan replies: "She'd be very happy for the people who are getting to enjoy the gardens and she'd be happy for me that I'm like a kid in the candy store because I found something that I'm passionate about to make it happen. It's good for my children to know that their mother was so awesome that her name's being associated with these gardens that do wonders."

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Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.